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Bath salts! They’re not just an unimaginative Christmas gift! That and other news at Inside HigherEd.

RACE AT ALABAMA: Two incidents in a week prompt a university to debate once again its history and the present.

REFORM FOR STUDENT HEALTH PLANS: The U.S. government says it will include student insurance plans in the health care overhaul, in some cases requiring colleges to strengthen their coverage for students.

TRAGEDY AT A PARTY: Shooting kills Youngstown State student and wounds 11, including 6 other students. Incident could point to dangers associated with Greek events at off-campus houses.

BATH SALTS, SPICE AND DRUGS THAT ENTICE: As “bath salts” are banned by lawmakers left and right, administrators consider how their own policies address designer drugs that come and go.

ANGER OVER NEW RANKINGS: Education deans from top research universities challenge methodology embraced by U.S. News and say that the “implied coercion” to participate raises questions of journalistic ethics.

Read All About It

This week on Inside HigherEd, tragedy at Rutgers illustrates a larger problem with giving LGBTQ students the resources they need; the fate of student health plans and admissions employees think about their image.

DEADLY WARNING: Rutgers student’s suicide after alleged gay taunting shows that, despite a growth in resources, some students don’t get help and there’s still plentiful debate about how to help them.

THE FUTURE FOR STUDENT HEALTH PLANS: Without clarity from the Obama administration, campus officials are unsure of whether or how their insurance offerings will survive.

FOR-PROFITS BATTLE ON MANY FRONTS: Sector turns to ads, rallies and big Washington names to fight Congress and the Obama administration.

SAVIORS OR SELLOUTS? At national gathering of admissions leaders, enrollment managers try to redefine the way they are viewed, stressing their role in retention as much as recruitment.

A CALL FOR OPEN TEXTBOOKS: Lobbying for cheaper books, a student activist group throws its weight behind an open-source model.

Dangerous Drinking and Dangerous Sex

A study from the National Bureau of Economic Research states that students who binge drink don’t have more sex than students who don’t, but they are more likely to have sex with multiple partners. (Economic research is more interesting than you thought, huh?) More frequent binge drinking ups the relationship, and it is unaffected when other factors are controlled, such as sports participation or mental health. However, students at four-year colleges, particularly white males, are most likely to be affected by binge drinking behavior; students at two-year institutions are the least likely.

Health Care and The Higher Ed Student

Last fall, the Higher Ed world feared that health care reform would invalidate university plans, since it had no accommodations for those programs at the time.  Six months and much wrangling and lobbying later, there is a provision in the bill for college and university student insurance plans, though fewer students may need to be on them. Insurance companies will be required to allow young adults, up to age 27, to stay on their parents’ insurance plans.

However, this article notes that there’s nothing in the bill that exempts student health care plans for certain stipulations in the bill, namely that pools of generally young, healthy people–such as college students–must be averaged with other, less-young, less-healthy people. These rules don’t take effect until 2014. Lobbyists for higher education have time to argue that colleges and university health care plans should be allowed to remain exclusive to students. Otherwise, the costs of those plans could go up.

Unnoticed in much of the hullabaloo, student loan administration was also changed as a part of the health care bill. Private lenders can no longer make federally-subsidized loans; only the federal government can.

Some groups have estimated the new bill will eventually result in an annual $3000-per-employee savings for colleges’ and universities’ faculty and staff health care costs. If they occur, those savings won’t appear for several years.

Eating Dangerously: Students and Their Allergies

Young adults do a lot of dangerous things, things that are widely acknowledged to be risky: drinking heavily; drinking and driving; drugs; standing on slanted, 30-degree rooftops in 5-inch heels (I’m personally guilty of that last one).  But some also do things that seem innocuous. Eating a peanut butter sandwich, some ice cream, or a slice of cake.

Increasing numbers of students have been arriving on college campuses with food allergies they are unable–or perhaps, unwilling–to manage by themselves. Perhaps their parents had done most of the work of coordinating doctors’ appointments, medications and keeping the illicit ingredient out of the way.  Despite the parent’s best intentions, their child arrives at college with limited ability to cope with their own condition. Some students may be reluctant to admit that their allergy limits them in any way. Some have never had a very severe reaction, and regard their allergy as a mere annoyance, rather than something that could be life-threatening.

The situation is difficult for dining halls as well; ensuring that adequate meals are created without allergens and making students aware of the ingredients of each dish, all the while creating delicious meals that appeal to everyone, providing a welcoming environment, and hopefully making a profit, or at least breaking even. Some institutions have opened special allergy-free kitchens and refrigerators to deal with the issue. The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network introduced its College Network in 2009, a resource for students on institutions that can accommodate their diets.

Despite an institution’s best efforts, however, there’s no way of preventing an allergic student from eating an off-limits food, unknowingly or otherwise. And these are the sorts of things that keep administrators awake in the wee hours.

How has your institution dealt with this issue? Have food allergies affected the residence halls? Does a student who keeps a jar of peanut butter handy find it hard to live with a roommate who must avoid the stuff? Have allergies affected how the vending machines are stocked? Have you had to confront a student who is eating dangerously? Let us know.

Conversations Concluded: H1N1

Editor’s Note: In the November+December 2009 issue of the Talking Stick we asked members to discuss how they are addressing H1N1 on their campus. As you would expect, they had plenty to say on the subject; so much that their ideas overflowed the magazine pages and onto this blog. So much that we’re even breaking it into three separate posts (read part 1 here and part 2 here). Participating in the Conversation is Mike Krenz, assistant manager for risk management at Texas A & M University in College Station; Gary McLaughlin, business manager for housing at Flinders University of South Australia in Adelaide; Steve Palmer, director of residence life at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo; Robert Tattershall, director of housing and conference services at Washington State University in Pullman; Dima Utgoff , director of residence services at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada; Joe Gonzalez, associate dean of residential life at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina; Sean Duggan, managing director of university student housing at Texas Tech University in Lubbock; and Bes Liebenberg, coordinator for student support  residences at the University of Pretoria in Gauteng, South Africa.

Question: Under what circumstances, if any, would you not isolate students that have H1N1 or are suspected of having H1N1?

Tattershal: We chose self-isolation this time, so in this wave of H1N1 we chose not to isolate.  Some time ago, during SARS and H5N1, helping the university understand that true isolation was virtually impossible in a high occupancy residence hall system (over 80 percent of our residents live with a roommate and have to leave their rooms to go to the bathroom and most have to leave at some time to get food), made quite a bit of difference in the current H1N1 discussion.  We were successful in getting the committee to think not only of the first few cases of H1N1, so as not to tailor our response just for the beginning of the epidemic on our campus, but for the epidemic after a few weeks, when the numbers would be much larger and overwhelm any attempt to isolate people in the handful of empty spaces we had.

In our situation, we had one case during sorority recruitment, the week before school started. That one case, because of her contact with other students, and their contact with many more, became hundreds of suspected cases of influenza-like illness before we could have implemented an isolation program. Our health professionals stopped testing after the first few cases of H1N1 because of the time lag and cost, and the CDC statements that 98 percent of all influenza A illnesses were H1N1 at this time, which meant that we only knew people were sick, and it was probably H1N1. Therefore, isolation for us would have meant isolating hundreds of residents that had influenza-like illness, and doing so within days of the initial awareness that an outbreak was already here.

We knew last spring, that unless H1N1 mutated very quickly, and became much more lethal and the symptoms were much more severe, our response to H1N1 would be very different compared to what we were planning to do if SARS or H5N1 ever made it within 100 miles of our campus; i.e., recommending to our leadership to close the university.  Interestingly, of course, closing the university doesn’t necessarily mean that we could close the halls, as several hundred of our residents simply wouldn’t be able to go home in the face of a infectious disease with high virulence and mortality.

McLaughlin: We did not specifically isolate any residents because by the time a resident was diagnosed they would have infected close contacts (if they were to be infected)anyway. In addition we do not have shared rooms so each resident was in their own room and that made it much easier to keep them away from others. By using the common area specifically set up plus having meals delivered, the infected residents were isolated but were not forbidden going to other areas of the complex.

Duggan: We suggest that students go home if that is an option, or self isolate to their res hall room.

Liebenberg: Only if the diagnoses are not confirmed. Out of a possible 8,000 residents we had only 12 confirmed cases reported and they all went home. I’m convinced that a severe outbreak would necessitate alternative measures. Read more

Conversations Continued: H1N1

Editor’s Note: In the November+December 2009 issue of the Talking Stick we asked members to discuss how they are addressing H1N1 on their campus. As you would expect, they had plenty to say on the subject; so much that their ideas overflowed the magazine pages and onto this blog. So much that we’re even breaking it into three separate posts. Participating in the Conversation is Mike Krenz, assistant manager for risk management at Texas A & M University in College Station; Gary McLaughlin, business manager for housing at Flinders University of South Australia in Adelaide; Steve Palmer, director of residence life at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo; Robert Tattershall, director of housing and conference services at Washington State University in Pullman; Dima Utgoff , director of residence services at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada; Joe Gonzalez, associate dean of residential life at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina; Sean Duggan, managing director of university student housing at Texas Tech University in Lubbock; and Bes Liebenberg, coordinator for student support  residences at the University of Pretoria in Gauteng, South Africa.

Question: How has your office responded to differences between the actions your office can take versus the actions expected by your students/parents?

Tattershall: The fact that we had a process in place to help residents pair up with a flu buddy, if needed, and a way for the residents to get food and know when they were well enough to resume their normal daily activities, helped us respond to the varying parent requests. Talking with the parents, getting people to understand the progress of H1N1 and that we had these other processes in place to help, made the conversation much easier.

Krenz: We have been holding to the “party line” and referring parents to how the university is responding and how residence life is responding . We have to keep explaining — like a broken record — that we will treat all of the students the same.  No one is “special.”  We have assured students and parents that we are taking our guidance from local health authorities and the university, and if things should get worse, we will modify our plan and respond appropriately.

McLaughlin: We had few questions from parents and they were advised exactly the same as residents of what procedures and safeguards we had put in place. Residents and parents were assured of continued occupancy if the resident caught H1N1. We would however isolate them but provide whatever they required.

Palmer: Education and more education has been our best bet. Our president is fully supportive of the directions we’re taking which is outstanding. We also discuss our limitations and continue to emphasize that if possible, students return home.

Utgoff: One such situation has just come up. The president of one of our residence associations has expressed his displeasure with the way we are responding to H1N1. Among other suggestions (and there are some good ones) he has asked us to provide small bottles of hand sanitizer to all residents (all 1,750 plus of them) in his residence. Our view is that this is unreasonable for many reasons and flies in the face of advice that the best personal hygiene involves washing ones’ hands with soap and water.

We have yet to hear from any parents, but I would expect to hear from some when they find out that we have made a conscious decision not to provide any isolation areas. In conversations with the Public Health Response Team, the University Health Centre, our Occupational Health Manager, our bio-hazards officer and one of our vice-provosts who, among other things, is a nursing professor, we have been advised that moving sick people to another area is likely to make things worse for the sick student. We also considered creating an isolation area for those who are healthy if they wanted to get away from a sick roommate. We understand that people who are infected with H1N1 may be contagious before they are even aware that they have the virus. Thus, someone who appears healthy could actually infect a large group of people. As well, because of the demand for residence space, we are not in a position to leave residence beds unoccupied. We could have consolidated the few empty spaces we do have (mostly as a result of “no-shows”) but for the reasons mentioned above we have chosen not to. Obviously, if Alberta Public Health directs us to do something different we will do whatever we can to comply.

Duggan: We are a pretty responsive department, within reason.  We will try to accommodate requests or work toward compromised solutions.  We have not really been up against an undo-able task. We will not force an ill student to relocate and have not been asked to, which has been somewhat surprising to me.  We have encouraged responsibility, and taking care of each other which I think has dulled the “panic” somewhat.

Liebenberg: What we have done is 1) Sent the same literature to both student and parents, and 2) We assured students and parents that we are continually assessing the situation and will modify and respond accordingly. Unconfirmed reports in the media created the impression that our TuksRes team is not doing enough. This was however rectified by the students themselves who categorically denied any outbreaks of the virus in their residences. Read more

Conversations: H1N1

Editor’s Note: In the November+December 2009 issue of the Talking Stick we asked members to discuss how they are addressing H1N1 on their campus. As you would expect, they had plenty to say on the subject; so much that their ideas overflowed the magazine pages and onto this blog. So much that we’re even breaking it into three separate posts. Participating in the Conversation is Mike Krenz, assistant manager for risk management at Texas A & M University in College Station; Gary McLaughlin, business manager for housing at Flinders University of South Australia in Adelaide; Steve Palmer, director of residence life at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo; Robert Tattershall, director of housing and conference services at Washington State University in Pullman; Dima Utgoff , director of residence services at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada; Joe Gonzalez, associate dean of residential life at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina; Sean Duggan, managing director of university student housing at Texas Tech University in Lubbock; and Bes Liebenberg, coordinator for student support residences at the University of Pretoria in Gauteng, South Africa.

Joe Gonzalez: What steps have your housing office taken to prepare for and respond to the H1N1 situation?

Mike Krenz: We had conversations with Texas A&M student health services, dining services, the vice president for student affairs office, and the university president’s office and came up with a unified solution. This was crucial. Before anything was issued to the public, we made sure we all agreed on the plan and all agreed on the wording of the messages being sent out. This went very smoothly with this approach: (1) Send messages to all faculty, staff, students, and parents; (2) Set up rooms for sick or well students for the purpose of isolation; (3) Set up a sick-tray process with dining services for sick students; (4) Work with student health services to have a flu vaccination clinic as soon as possible; (5) Check all stock piles of masks, gloves, and hand sanitizers, and (6) Educate, educate, educate, and educate some more.

Gary McLaughlin: In Australia we have just gone through our peak flu season, and at Flinders housing we did have several cases of H1N1, including one staff member. We had a meeting of senior management (as soon as we realized we were at risk), at which we determined the course of action we would take, which included identifying medical resources both at the university and off campus and setting up an isolation area, catering services, and ongoing monitoring procedures for infected residents. We ensured that we had a good and easily accessible supply of appropriate prevention items such as gloves, masks, and sanitary hand wash for use when dealing with infected residents. All residents were advised of arrangements that were in place. Read more

Student Mental Health Series on NPR

National Public Radio has aired a two part series on college student mental health. They discuss the increasing need for mental health services on campus, the limited resources many institutions are able to devote to counseling and care, and how housing staff attempts to deal with at-risk students with sensitivity and urgency. The first story, on the growing need for mental health services, is here; the second, which is on overwhelmed mental health services is here.

Health Care Reform May Affect Institution Insurance Plans

The Senate Finance Committee’s recently approved health care bill specifies two sorts of health care plans: employer-provided and individual policies purchased through an insurance exchange. To much of the population, this would seem to cover all the forms of insurance, but those affiliated with college and universities know there’s a third way: college- and university-issued insurance. Health insurance plans issued by institutions of higher education fall into another category, “limited duration products” according to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA).

This may be an inadvertent mistake, and representatives of the American College Health Association have written to Senators requesting clarification.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports that, in 2007, 67% of college students 18-23 received health insurance through employer-provided plans (likely their parents’ plans); 6% used Medicaid and the like; 20% were uninsured, and 7% had insurance through another private plan, such as an college-issued program.

Student insurance plans were offered at 71% of private institutions, 82% of public institutions and 29% of two-year public institutions in 2008, reported the GAO.

H1N1 Developments in the News

LAST UPDATE, 10.29.09, 11:45 A.M.: A New Surge in Flu Cases; Vaccine is Hard to Find

ACUHO-I has covered H1N1 in depth here on the blog (view stories in the “Health” category or search for the H1N1 tag), and also has established a resource page on our Web site for further information. ACUHO-I members are also encouraged to visit the Health & Safety forum on the ACUHO-I network to post questions for other members.

As stories continue to come out, we will utilize the “sticky” tag to keep this post at the top of our blog feed and simply update the post as necessary. Click on the link to read more of this post and look for updates. Read more

H1N1 Is Back In School Too

Swine Flu, AKA H1N1, AKA Novel H1N1, is joining students at move-in, apparently. Fortunately, the number of cases reported, while stretching nationwide, are hardly epidemic: a few people here, a few there.

Some institutions have had more sickness than others; the University of Kansas had 319 affected students at one point, but that number is now decreasing. The institution has 30,000 students, so while the illnesses are disconcerting, they represent just over 1 percent of the student population. Colleges and universities nationwide are urging students to protect themselves from infection and offering instructions for ill students.

You will all be surely comforted, however, that this valiant crusader is on your side against H1N1.

More H1N1 Prep

The New York Times has now chimed in on the Higher-Education-and-H1N1 conversation, with an article on how various institutions are trying to get ahead of a potential pandemic. Most are advising students to be clean and hygenic; to not go out in public when sick and to convalese at home with the help of their parents, if possible.

The exception is the United States Military Academy, where going home isn’t an option. Incoming cadets who have had recent contact with a flu victim were tested for the virus, and personel switched to elbow bumps rather than handshakes for a while, to slow the spread of the virus. Only six cadets have gotten the flu, so their strategies are apparently working.

H1N1 Advice from the Depts. of Ed. and Health & Human Services

The advice is similar or the same as what we’ve already heard about H1N1, but it’s helpful to have for the sake of justifying policies and actions. Inside HigherEd summarizes the guidance, also check the source at the CDC.

There are a few items that jump out:

  • Pre-plan flu buddy systems so healthy students can bring food to their ill roomates or friends.
  • Create a system that ensures ill students are visited by a staff member.
  • Consider reducing the size of large gatherings. Also think about moving furniture, such as desks and couches, farther apart so very close contact is minimized.
  • Pre-plan the vaccination process, so when the vaccination is ready (perhaps late October) the process can go as smoothly as possible.
  • Plan accommodations and education for students in special circumstances, for example: Pre-college students and students with health issues that put them at additional risk.

H1N1 and Lots of Links

Here’s our latest collection of information on H1N1, the vaccine, and plans for dealing with infections.

Many thanks go to Jon Zuhosky, library intern, for researching some of the items in this post!

Many universities and colleges have pandemic plans; this one from North Carolina Central University details the responses for each department, including residence life. Also look at appendix A, which describes each person’s role, their alternates and the protective gear necessary. This presentation, from the University of Kansas, is among the pandemic-oriented items available in the online library. These, and examples such as the University of Florida H1N1 plan that we blogged about, can help when crafting or modifying your own plan. Also, look at the American College Health Association’s Guidelines for Pandemic Planning, the ACHA’s H1N1 site and the CDC’s page for higher education institutions.

In the news: